If you haven’t heard of Azeeza Khan then you’ll want to take note: the Chicago-based designer has been slowly but surely working her way into the industry over the past couple of years, flying just under the radar. She’s dressed celebrities, has been formally noted by both Louis Vuitton and Forbes as the go-to label in Chicago and just signed a deal with Barneys New York. Known for her use of silhouette, cuts and structure she has a dedicated following and is about to break onto the scene in a big way. It’s pretty fair to say that 2016 is coming up Khan.
For years Khan worked in the oil industry, quickly and successful climbing the ranks of corporate America while designing and sewing her own clothes in her spare time. “You know when you're successful at something and unhappy, that’s kind of where I was,” she explained to JustLuxe. “It was really an outlet for me, fashion, but it wasn’t something that I was doing day to day… I would always make personal pieces for myself and I would get a really good response from friends and family which was somewhat encouraging, but definitely not enough to take it to the level where you create your own business.” But after a few years she did just that. Without any formal training, Khan started the label as a side project in an effort to find a niche for herself in the world of fashion. “When I launched the brand I did not quit my day job. I did both in tandem the first year and within three months of launching the brand, the brand was performing better than my day job. I told myself that I would give myself a year with the brand and see where it went; the results were almost instantaneous.”
Over the next three years, Khan focused specifically on direct-to-consumer sales, planning on going wholesale when she felt she had uncovered the voice of the label and established herself as a professional brand. “It was very much self-taught and there was definitely a lot of trial and error which is why I didn't directly jump into wholesale initially. It was really teaching myself and doing research on the industry and what my options were … and just kind of connecting myself with the right people. I’m a really strong believer in relationships,” she noted.
In the beginning, the brand aesthetic and their designs were becoming convoluted and followed the trends rather than a strict look or style. “I saw at one point, earlier in the brand, that I found myself [designing] great pieces that were selling well and were more profitable and all of that, but I just had to steer myself back, back to the brand DNA of what and why I started this and to make clothes that I truly believe in,” she explained. To her this meant creating clothes that would allow all women to feel comfortable and beautiful. “I’ve worked with so many different body types,” she explained. [What’s most] rewarding is when the girl who feels body conscious finds the right peace of mind and how confident and how much it just changes their whole mood … it really does change their perspective or their perception of themselves. So I think that it’s really powerful to be able to impact that.” She notes that her designs are intended to be flattering for all body types as they “reveal and conceal”—adding that just a touch of skin, like a shoulder or a collarbone, can offer up drama while still being comfortable and sophisticated.
Her early collections were filled with dark colors, hard angles and excessive embellishments like feathers, metals and sparkles—her later lines are bright, colorful and almost minimalistic in the way they focus on cut and silhouette rather than ornaments. “A lot of those [early] pieces are exploration of when I first started the brand,” she explained. “Spring/Summer 16 is the most that I’ve been able to find my voice … Now I’m at the same factories as some of the best in the industry—like The Row and others—so now I have more resources so I can focus on quality tailoring, quality cuts and so forth…at the time I didn't have this minimal aesthetic because I was struggling with even simple pattern making. Now I can be a little bit more sophisticated than that.”
She may have struggled with the brand’s DNA, but she still caught the eye of several noteworthy celebs and influencers. She’s dressed Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophia Bush, Gabrielle Union, and her friend Chiara Ferragni, but unlike most designers she prefers to stay away from big name endorsements. “I’m not super celebrity focused … so I’m really cautious in terms of how I tread that as I gain awareness because I am a new brand and I don't want the cart before the horse,” she explained. “I just want to make sure that it’s the right step for the brand.” She did add that some major stars (whose names she prefers to keep off the record) have been through her NYC showroom, but she prefers not to get involved in what she refers to as the “pay-to-play” territory.
The one exception is her friend, blogger and influencer Chiara Ferragni who she met organically on Facebook before she had even established her brand. “She was in my living room when I didn't even have showroom,” Khan laughed. “She wore it and she posted it and the response was amazing. She did go on to wear it over a dozen times.” For Khan, it’s the real women in her store or even the bloggers like her friend Ferragni who are the inspiration behind her brand. “It’s really about how every girl interprets it into her own,” she told us. I do want to keep it authentic and go with the real girl essence because that’s who I’ve been supported [by].”
This season the label was picked up as an exclusive with Barneys so those looking to snatch up Khan’s latest can find it there. But keep in mind, it’s selling out fast. “They are such a wonderful partner they are known for giving emerging brands a platform, they launched Proenza and so forth, and I think that I’m learning so much from them as a partner. I’m learning the luxury wholesale market from one of the best players that’s prestigious and recognizable. They have so much insight and intellect that was definitely crucial to the launch and I think that … I’m learning so much day to day.” While this season’s designs are exclusive to the New York-based department store, Khan is hoping to go international soon and expand her clientele and name in the coming years. “I’ve been very fortunate,” she said of her success. “It’s been serendipitous in terms of all the doors and opportunities that have come to bring [the brand] to fruition.”